The Liberal leadership race, slated to wrap up in early April, is slowly coming to life, and for the first time since 1984, it may actually feature some agriculture debate.
Toronto lawyer Martha Hall Findlay joined the race last week and is pushing the party to abandon its longstanding support for supply management.
In a bout of Liberal unorthodoxy, she is proposing that the dairy, poultry and egg tariff and quota system be phased out over years with a scheme of compensation for quota-holding farmers.
Liberal governments oversaw the creation of national supply management schemes in the 1960s and 1970s, so her proposal will receive significant resistance from the establishment.
Still, other candidates will have to respond, including Montreal MP and frontrunner Justin Trudeau, who has yet to comment on her proposal.
Not since former agriculture minister Eugene Whelan ran for the leadership in 1984 has agriculture featured much at all in party leadership debates.
Findlay, a former MP, is vowing to shake the third place party out of its traditions, launching her campaign in Calgary Nov. 14, enlisting some heavy-hitting provincial Progressive Conservative organizers to guide her campaign and arguing that sticking with traditional broad and orthodox policies has led the party to its lowest House of Commons standing ever.
She said her choice of Alberta as a campaign launching pad illustrated her goal of making the Liberal party national again rather than a small party with urban and Atlantic Canada MPs. Calgary has not elected a Liberal MP since 1968.
So far, no other MPs have indicated they are willing to come up with the $75,000 entry fee, intimidated by the buzz around the Trudeau candidacy.
This will be the first party leadership race in Canadian history that will allow non-members to vote. To attract more interest, the Liberals have created a “supporter” class of voters who need not join the party before voting starts April 6.
As the leadership candidates debate at forums across the country, there also will be some family politics playing out.
Candidate and Toronto lawyer Deborah Coyne is the mother of Justin Trudeau’s half-sister Sarah, his father Pierre’s last child and only daughter. Coyne is a constitutional lawyer and long-time Liberal activist.
There is a bevy of other lawyers with little national profile in the running.
Other potential candidates have until mid-December to come up with most of their entry fee before debates begin in Vancouver in January.